a sermon delivered by
on Sunday, December 2, 2001
at Community Unitarian Universalist Church
in Daytona Beach, Florida
Recently we In the United States were delivered a horrendous terrorist blow. Something of such incredible magnitude that we are still struggling to understand the event and its aftermath and with just how we should deal with it in an effective manner. Our National leaders have consistently referred to the crashing of commercial airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon as Evil acts committed by evil people. The Evil people have been identified and a National Military force has been brought to smoke them out of their hiding places and to bring them to face Justice. Now of course we have every right to be in anger and to desire that a sense of justice be meted out to such evil people.
However, we, liberals especially, must examine the factors behind the horrific acts for several reasons. We must examine our actions, which might have had some effect upon those who committed the acts. This does not mean that we share responsibility, or that we somehow deserved what we experienced, not at all. But it does suggest that perhaps the ethics that we live by internationally could be examined more closely and perhaps a new ethic can be developed which will serve all of humankind in a more positive way.
Since the advent of humankind on this planet, people have struggled with the issue of suffering and misery. Most societies have adopted some version of evil as enticing we humans to commit acts, which we cannot explain in any other way than the concept of evil. We even go so far as to suggest that there is a devil, representing evil, as opposed to God, who or which represents goodness.
I would suggest that we have a great necessity to see if we can find out if such a thing as evil and the Devil do indeed exist and to determine what power they have over us as human beings. It has been pointed out to us that one person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter. The truth of this thinking is quite evident in all parts of the world. Who are the terrorists and who are the freedom fighters in Palestine and in Israel. Likewise in Northern Ireland, between Catholics and Protestants. When we allow ourselves to identify one side or the other as evil, we also allow ourselves to overlook the total experience and therefor tend to not be cognizant of all of the facts which bear on the experience. Thereby making wrong choices as to cause and effect. It then becomes difficult to make reasonable and intelligent choices as to proper procedure.
Our Liberal Theology has had a consistently difficult time dealing with evil, suffering and human misery. It has been rarely addressed in liberal theology. If this is so, then perhaps by facing the problem head on will bring us to a more realistic view of evil and therefore the problems that we face as we try to build a more just world.
For a few moments lets examine some of ideas different cultures have developed as they struggled with evil and what they have done to combat it. As we all know, in most emerging societies it was assumed that Gods and Goddesses controlled natural acts. Thus there were Gods of war and thunder and love and hate. It seemed fitting that there be a God/Goddess who was responsible for acts that were considered evil.
In Christian lore, which of course is our antecedent, the Angel Lucifer (Satan) desired to be like God. While certainly all men attempted to achieve likeness to God, in fact it was a duty to emulate him, the desires of Lucifer (Satan) exceeded the norms of humankind, and thus were considered sinful and evil. When God created Adam and Eve he promised eternal happiness but warned them not to eat the fruit of the tree of Knowledge. He essentially was saying to them "don't question me or my intentions, it is enough for you to follow my word."
By now Satan was leading a rebellion against God and used all of his powers to lead other angels in this rebellion. The power gained by this following of Fallen Angels gave Satan the ability to extend his influence to all of mankind. Thus he was able to influence Adam and Eve to disobey God and to eat the apple from the tree which allegorically was an attempt to find out more about God then he desired them to know.
The Christian view of Evil was influenced by these events and later came to be seen thusly. Because Eve desired to fill herself with something that God had commanded she not do, the end result was that she emptied herself of God's love and grace thereby creating a void left by the absence of that love and grace. In contrast, the role of Mary who was chosen to be the Mother of Jesus was effectively being asked to empty herself of personal desires in order to be the bearer of the Son of God. In so emptying herself of personal desire she allowed herself to be filled with God's goodness and bounty. Thus evil or sin was seen to be an emptying of oneself of the goodness and the grace of God and filling oneself with personal desires in defiance of God's will. The essence of goodness, as exhibited by Mary, was emptying oneself of personal desires and thereby making room for the love and the grace of God.
Early Christian theologians were convinced that Satan was influencing humankind to act outside of God' plan and to seek ones personal goals. They likened Evil and the Devil to a man walking amongst humanity with his fist closed. He is the Devil incarnate enticing people to follow him in the hopes that he will open his hand and they will have what is therein contained. When he opens his hand there is nothing there.
This also explains the oft-repeated criticism of God. If God is all good and all-powerful then how can he allow evil to exist? He then must not be all good or not all-powerful. The existence of the fallen Angel, Lucifer (Devil) explains this dichotomy.
Now of course we don't live in a vacuum and we, being an open country, are exposed to other viewpoints regarding the existence of evil. In this sense let us recognize that goodness exists in the world. We see it all the time although admittedly it does not gain the attention and the longevity that evil does. Likewise evil, which can be seen as the opposite of good, also exists and affects us daily. It is up to us to recognize the realities examined herein and adjust our actions accordingly to minimize evil and maximize goodness.
In most societies in the world there is an acknowledgment of both good and evil. Evil exists when we stray from the good. In some societies there are rules and regulations invented which identify both good and evil and we are admonished to seek the good and therefore drive out the evil. While the end result may be perceived to be good, we are constrained by the rules. Rules which are oftentimes rigid and inflexible, inhibit our acting in ways that may be both good and beneficial when properly engaged.
In our liberal tradition we have made a decision to downplay "evil" and see instead some sort of relativistic relation between good and "not so good". We thus have denied an entity called evil and substituted unjust economics, inadequate government action, poor environment, abusive childhood, and other reasons, which substitute as cause for "not so good" actions. While these are indeed causes, which need to be addressed, they can all be cited as underlying causes for terrorism. Yet they project such a monstrous task to bring our force to bear upon for some sort of solution, We surrender to a simpler solution, often ending in conflict. We find to our dismay this only leads us into facing more "not so good" actions. Maybe a realistic dose of learning about evil might lead us to make a better choice of solutions.
How do other groups, under the umbrella of Unitarian Universalism, deal with the issue of evil? We have already examined our antecedents so now let's look at a couple of others. Our Wiccan brothers and sisters note that one of the foundations of the Church is to label evil and the devil as outside the self. This of course displaces the responsibility for acting in an evil way to something outside of the self. By creating a Devil the Church recognizes no evil in the self but creates an enemy by assigning it outside the self and outside God's dominion, to others. Thus it is only necessary to identify those others and to destroy them and therefore evil. The person, outside who sends the thought of evil, is therefore ripe to be killed.
The I Ching states "our own passions must not be glossed over. If evil is characterized by weapons and we choose to combat it by the use of weapons, then we lose in the end because we thus embroil ourselves in hatred and passion. It is important to begin at home, to be on guard in our own person against the faults we brand as evil."
Wiccans acknowledge the dark aspects of both the Goddess and the devil. All nature is composed of opposites and this polarity is resident within ourselves. The darkest as well as the brightest are locked within our unconsciousness. Our innate ability to rise above destructive urges, to channel our energies into positive thoughts and actions separates us from mass murderers and sociopaths.
Our Buddhist members have an interesting viewpoint. The Dalai Lama for instance calls for a new way of determining the Ethics of our situation. He suggests that the great movements of the last hundred years, Democracy, Liberalism, Socialism have all filed to deliver the universal benefits they were promising to provide, despite many wonderful ideas. A revolution is certainly called for but not a political, an economic, not even a technical revolution. We have had enough experience of those during the past century to know that a purely external approach will not suffice. What the Dalai Lama proposes is a spiritual revolution.
He says that in meetings with many different sorts of people the world over helped him to realize that most religions have elements, which can be capable of enabling people to lead constructive and satisfying lives. He also says that whether or not a person is a religious believer does not matter much. Far more important is that they be a good human being. The influence of religion upon human lives is generally marginal, especially in the developed world.
Religion is concerned with faith in the claims to salvation of one faith tradition or another. An aspect of this is the acceptance of some form of metaphysical or supernatural reality, including perhaps, the idea of a heaven or Nirvana. Connected with this are religious teachings such as evil and the Devil plus rituals, which are intended to secure ones individual salvation.
Spirituality is concerned with the qualities of the human spirit---such as love and compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, a sense of responsibility, a sense of harmony---which bring happiness to self and others. While ritual, prayer, heaven, nirvana are all connected to religious faith, these inner qualities do not necessarily need to be. There is thus no reason why the individual should not develop them to a high degree, without recourse to the entrapments of religious or metaphysical belief. Religion seems to be something we can do without. What we cannot do without, are these basic spiritual qualities. The unifying characteristic of these qualities may be said to be a high level of concern for other's well being. In Tibetan it is said "shen pen kyi sem." Meaning "the thought of being help to others"
The one who is compassionate, loving, kind, patient, tolerant, forgiving and so on, recognizes the potential impact of their actions upon others and orders their conduct accordingly. Thus spiritual practice involves on the one hand, acting out of concern for the other's well-being. On the other hand it entails transforming ourselves so that we become more readily disposed to do so.
Thus the spiritual revolution called for is a radical reorientation away from our habitual preoccupation with self. It is a call to turn toward the wider community of beings with whom we are connected and for conduct which recognizes other's interests alongside our own.
What about Islam? We heard from the Imam a few weeks ago and while I was able to perceive some commonalities, I also perceived some extreme rhetoric in the Koran, which tends to violate what the Imam said, was a message of love. The Koran does identify some Evil, which has been translated by a large segment of the Islamic world to apply to the great Satan, the United States. Somehow the message of love has been bottled up and not given its light in which to operate.
Our leaders in all their self-righteousness seem to espouse a similar perception of the world and therefore play right into the hands of the militants. It does seem to me that we could do far worse then adopting the spiritual revolution suggested by the Buddhist Dalai Lama.
In closing it is apparent that evil exists in some form. It is equally evident that to assign fault to evil does so at a risk of not recognizing the real causes of evil. To identify the "other" as evil and then proceed to eliminate him/her fails in its attempt to eliminate the evil.
The Dalai Lama sees the human body as composed of numerous independent cells or clusters of cells, which are interdependent. If one of those clusters of cells becomes weak or cancerous, it cannot help support the other cells thus placing them in danger of collapse. Likewise the world is composed of many interdependent cells, called nations, which can be likewise affected. One or several cancerous countries can bring down other countries. It is incumbent upon us as a nation to recognize this and to recognize the needs and desires of other countries and act out of concern and love for them. Is there any other choice?
Go Now In Peace